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DSLC closes with women’s activist

Kaitlyn Rabach | Friday, March 23, 2012

To conclude the Saint Mary’s Diverse Leadership Conference (DSLC) on March 21, Zainab Salbi, co-founder of the non-profit organization Women for Women, addressed the Saint Mary’s community about her experience as an advocate for women’s rights in the war-torn Middle East.

“Twenty years ago I embarked on a journey,” Salbi said. “I knew I would dedicate my life to changing the world, and I knew I would change the lives of women. Along my journey I learned many important lessons that have allowed me to not only help others but also help myself.”

Speaking in Carroll Auditorium on Wednesday evening, Salbi said women should band together to encourage new ideas and should never degrade the opinions of their peers.

“It is time for women to unite,” she said. “It is time for women to echo each other and roar in one voice. Women must have the audacity to be pro-active with articulating what we want and how we want to be defined in this world.”

Women must respect each other to truly effect change, Salbi said.

“If I have any judgment of a woman inside the silence of my heart she will feel it and it will affect her,” she said. “The most important thing we can give a vulnerable woman is respect.”

Salbi said her journey to end injustice included embracing herself for who she is.

“Going to different war zones was not the hardest journey for me,” Salbi said. “My hardest journey was to save myself and find the peace within my own heart.”

She said she always advised other women to share their stories, but was hesitant to talk about her own.

“For many years I encouraged other women to speak out and tell their true stories and hardships,” Salbi said. “It was easy for me to tell other women’s stories, but not my own.”

With some encouragement from her publisher and women she interviewed from war-torn areas, Salbi said she chose to share her story with the world.

“I felt as though I had too much honor and pride to say that I had been raped and was in an arranged marriage, but once I came clean and told the world, I felt as though a burden was lifted off of me,” she said. “I learned it is our individual responsibility to break the silence.”

Salbi said sharing her story was a part of her healing process, but to truly heal, she had to change her cynical perception of men.

“There are really good men out there in the world,” she said. “We must not corner men. We must collaborate with them. We have to reach and work alongside men or there will be no transformation.”

Salbi said women’s activists should make an effort to spread joy through their work.

“It is our presence that is part of our work,” she said. “We must work to transform the world with joy. We must smile. We must dance. Dance when you have torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the battlefield. Dance in your blood. Dance and be free with joy.”

College president Carol Mooney said Salbi’s lessons encapsulate the true essence of a Saint Mary’s education, and these lessons will have a lasting impact on members of the audience.

“She did a remarkable thing tonight,” Mooney said. “She bore her soul in public, in a way that has the power to move other people. I believe she will leave a lasting impact on anyone that spends just one hour with her.”

To end her talk, Salbi encouraged members of the audience to start their own life journey.

“As you embark on your journey I encourage you to tell, live and be your truth,” Salbi said. “Telling your own truth is not an easy journey, but let me tell you it is worth it. Do it now. Jump off a cliff and live your truth right now. Don’t wait.”